The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime (CTTC) unit is working to curb militancy in Bangladesh. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Arifur Rahman Rabbi, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Monirul Islam, who now heads the CTTC, talks about the HuJI-B and the overall militancy situation in Bangladesh
The CTTC chief thinks that militancy is under control. But there is no reason to suffer from complacency, he says. Because militancy is a complex and long-term process, it is not possible for the CTTC, or police, or the intelligence agencies alone to fully control or suppress it.
Monirul thinks that suppressing militancy requires the involvement of different sections of people, from the family to society. Militancy could be completely controlled through the participatory activities of teachers, members of society, and the media.
What led to the rise of HuJI-B and what’s the present situation?
The people who took part in the so-called jihad in Afghanistan returned to the country and formed Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami Bangladesh (HuJI-B) on April 30, 1992, following in the footsteps of Al-Qaeda.
They followed madrasa-based recruitment and trained them. At first, they were working to implement so-called Sharia Laws.
Their target wasn’t Bangladesh at the time. They thought they would carry out operations in neighbouring countries.
But later – towards the end of the Awami League government – it was seen that a political party formed a kind of alliance with the HuJI-B.
The then opposition, BNP-Jamaat, a political opponent at the 2001 elections, thought that it would be easier for them to come to power if they could prove the failure of the government via militant attacks before the elections. There were also attempts to weaken their opponent and pave the way for power by carrying out killings.
That's why, in 1999, HuJI-B began to carry out isolated attacks, such as the 1999 Udichi bombings in Jessore, the 2001 Ramna Batamul bombings on Pohela Boishakh, and many others.
After the BNP-Jamaat coalition government came to power in 2001, HuJI-B's activities continued in public. Later, with the cooperation of the government, we see the final form – the grenade attack on our present prime minister on August 21, 2004.
The incident was led by political leaders. Some government agencies cooperated with and encouraged the militants, and gave them a safe passage. Instead of conducting a proper investigation into the incident, they attempted to stage various dramas to turn it around.
Later, due to the international community and national pressure, especially after the attack on the then British high commissioner Anwar Chowdhury, they came under intense international pressure. As a result, HuJI-B had to be banned.
They have not been able to recruit members since 2009 due to the government's announcement of a zero tolerance policy. They have become organizationally weak since then.
Many were arrested in various cases. Many fled and some of the HuJI-B members took refuge abroad. Atiqullah is one of them. He came to Bangladesh and was basically trying to reorganize by motivating his old colleagues. We also arrested him.
HuJI-B is less likely to be organized in that way. The way it was formed, it can be said that it was a first generation militant outfit. But they did not devise any strategic tactics to attract newcomers or youngsters.
Before the Internet evolved into social media, this organization lost its power. As a result, they have not been able to spread HuJI-B's appeal to the younger generation.
Are the militants trying to organize secretly? Do you have any information?
Militant groups do not have the capacity to do anything like that. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir is not involved in violence in Bangladesh, it does distribute some posters and leaflets to provoke certain forces. Somewhere there is a sudden procession. They basically run online based propaganda.
However, such online campaigns have decreased a lot now.
The Ansar al-Islam group has not carried out sabotage or killings since April 2016 after the Xulhaz Mannan assassination because many of their leaders have been arrested at different times. Many are fugitives avoiding arrest.
As a result, the banned organization is trying to recruit members for various online activities. Recently they have made some changes in their narrative. They think that there is no environment for so-called jihad in Bangladesh. That is why they are trying to go wherever there is an environment of jihad in the world.
Regarding New JMB, in 2016, their organizational capacity was in its final stage. However, many organizers, masterminds and trainers have been killed or arrested in various operations since the Holy Artisan attack. They are a bit weak.
Later in 2017, they also tried to rebuild under the leadership of Mainul Islam Musa. But he was killed in the operation in Moulvibazar. In addition, we have been able to break down the capacity that was developed by conducting operations in different places.
Because of that, the New JMB could no longer stand up organizationally. That is why such an incident could not happen in 2018.
But in 2019, the New JMB again tried to detonate bombs in five places in Dhaka and two places in Khulna. They have all been identified and arrested.
This year too, they carried out an attack in Chittagong and tried to do the same in Dhaka and Sylhet. They have also been arrested. As a result, they do not have that organizational structure.
Though they try to attack, by using a sleeper cell, in isolation at different times, they do not have the capacity to do damage anymore.
What steps are you taking to suppress the militants?
In addition to the operational approach, we are trying to suppress militancy by using the “soft approach.”
We are identifying those who are vulnerable groups, and we intervene there, so that they do not fall into the trap of militancy.
We conduct interventions for those who have already been radicalized but have not become terrorists, as well as bring those involved in terrorism under law through arrests. Besides, rehabilitating those who are in jail, released on bail, or released from imprisonment are other methods.
We have already started the work of building awareness against militancy in every district across the country. Stakeholders include village chowkidar-dafadar, Union Parishad (UP) member, UP chairman, teachers, students, journalists, cultural activists, madrasa students, and Maulanas.
In addition to this, we have also built awareness among prison guards and Ansar personnel, so that they are working against militancy at the grassroots level.
Militancy is a complex issue. We need some academic research to overcome this. Much academic research has already been completed. We have submitted eight research findings. We will be taking steps to publish those findings.